(Devotions for CIANZ Conference 15/7/17 )
Reading: Acts 17:22-23, 28-34
“Taking a Stand.” Today’s “Rethinking Hell” Conference is subtitled, “The Unfinished Business of the Reformation.” It’s a great title and CIANZ is very grateful to Peter Grice, Chris Date and other speakers for bringing their papers today. I hope we can all get to hear some or all of those papers.
We all owe so much to the original Reformation, sparked in 1517 when Martin Luther posted 95 theses for debate on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. My wife, Jackie, and I were there in Wittenberg just 2 months ago. This year is the 500th Anniversary of that Reformation and it’s being commemorated all over Germany and beyond, including here in Auckland, with exhibitions, seminars, conferences and festivals. We caught just a bit of that in Germany in May.
Luther is justly world famous for the stand he took. In fact, he is supposed to have actually said the words, “Here I stand,” when on trial before the Roman Church and the Holy Roman Emperor at Worms in 1521. A truly extraordinary man of God. We owe him so much.
We owe the Apostle Paul even more. He certainly took a stand, and kept on taking it. In the Book of Acts you find him doing so time and time again. Like here in Acts 17, in Athens, before the leading Greek thinkers of his day. Or later, in Acts 23, before the Jewish Council, who wanted to kill him. And on both of these occasions what Paul took a stand on was Resurrection. In Acts 16 this was the issue that most challenged his audience. He was mocked for it. And in Acts 23, standing before the Jewish Council, he says in verse 6: “I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” Even later on, in Acts 26, before King Agrippa, resurrection is at least part of it.
Here in CIANZ we too take our stand on the resurrection of the dead. We reject the idea that the human soul or spirit is immortal. Yet this does not lead us to despair. On the contrary, like Paul we place our confidence unequivocally in God who raises the dead (Romans 4:17) and we challenge both the non-Christian public and the Christian public, the Church, to do the same.
In the 20th and 21st centuries both science and secular philosophy have increasingly discarded any belief in the immortality of the soul. However, in many cases this has led to outright rejection of any hope beyond death, or at least to deep scepticism. But we say: resurrection! And we do so, not on the basis of either fantasy or worn out philosophy, but on the foundation of the historical resurrection of Jesus, the very cornerstone of Christian faith.
The strange thing is that we must also continue to challenge the Christian Church on the same basis. Not that the Christian Church has lost all hope of life beyond death. But the Christian Church has failed, by and large, to build absolutely upon the Gospel, to trust absolutely in resurrection, instead falling back on non-Christian ideas and fantasies about the afterlife that are totally discredited today.
So, like Luther, we take a stand in the face of almost the whole weight of Christian tradition if necessary. A stand on the Word of God. As Luther said at Worms, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God.” So is ours. Like him, we stand there.
And like Paul, in accordance with that Word of God we stand on Resurrection. Resurrection, in the face of secular desperation, disillusion and doubt. Resurrection also in the face of the half-baked, misleading, unfounded and discredited “Christian” tradition of soul or spirit immortality. Our hope is squarely and absolutely in God. And it is neither half-baked, nor unfounded. We stand upon the fundamental facts of the Gospel. We stand upon Jesus Christ and His resurrection from the dead.